The Kingdom of Stools

Dung Ngo


“Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass... There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on the top of it. 

She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.”

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865

Away from the bright light, they can be found tucked in the underbrush of the sea of legs and moving blankets. Short and often unassuming, they tend to thrive in this thicket environment, somewhat dark and low to ground. Those that can be identified have fanciful names like Rooster, Butterfly, Pirkka, and Fjord, but many are considered 'wild' and still to be classified, having yet to be designated a proper genus. 

I am speaking, of course, not of mushrooms on a forest floor but the stools that have been gathered for this exhibition from Joel Chen's vast furniture warehouses. One hundred and eighteen, to be exact—an edited but still sprawling sampling of this most primordial of furniture type. 

Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia was a true Renaissance man well-versed in the language of art and design. Born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915, Bertoia relocated to the United States at the age of fifteen and enrolled at Cass Technical High School in Detroit to study hand-made jewelry. In 1937, Bertoia was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he was drawn to the mostly empty metal shop and, after two years in the program, was invited to head the department.

At Cranbrook, Bertoia was introduced to a number of designers whose names would become synonymous with mid-century modern design. Here he met Eero Saarinen, with whom he would collaborate on numerous architectural projects, and Charles and Ray Eames with whom, for a short period during the war, he would work for at the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products in California. In 1950, Bertoia moved east to Pennsylvania to open his own studio and to work with Florence Knoll designing chairs. Bertoia designed five chairs out of wire that would become icons of the period, all of them popular and all still in production today.

The success of his chair designs for Knoll afforded Bertoia the means to pursue his artistic career and by the mid-1950s he was dedicated exclusively to his art. Using traditional materials in non-traditional ways, Bertoia created organic sculptural works uniting sound, form and motion. From sculptures sold to private buyers to large-scale installations in the public realm, Bertoia developed an artistic language that is at once recognizable but also uniquely his own.

Today Bertoia’s works can be found in various private and numerous public collections, including: The Art Institute of Chicago, Denver Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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